It was an unusually subdued Neal Caffery who rode next to Peter as they traveled upstate leading the caravan of F.B.I. agents to the institute. Having finally beat the afternoon rush hour traffic through the city streets they crossed the George Washington Bridge, to the relatively lighter traffic up the Palisades Interstate Parkway.
As Peter drove he snuck peeks at his charge, wanting to help his friend in some way yet knowing that it was all his own fault. Every time Neal caught him looking at him, his game face slipped on, easy grin, self assured mask, totally in control. But even though his hands were stuffed into his pockets, Peter could see them trembling.
"What are you thinking?" Peter finally asked.
Neal gave him his con-man grin, "Oh, what any son thinks about when he goes to visit his father, playing games of catch in the back yard, doing homework together, being gently guided to follow in the old man's footsteps."
"Neal cut the crap. You know I read the files."
"Peter, you know how fathers and sons are. It's rare that they see eye to eye."
"Damn it Caffery, stop playing it like it was 'Father Knows Best,' I'm trying to help here."
"If you'll excuse me, Agent Burke, right now I think I'll fare a lot better without your brand of help," Neal said, effectively shutting Peter out.
"So now you're sulking?"
Neal turned to him, his usual facade broken, his emotions raw on his face. "No, now I'm trying to construct a persona for myself, one that isn't terrified of the demon that bore me, that brutalized me in every possible way for six years, that I barely escaped and who has been the star in my nightmares my entire life; a persona that has some chance of saving that child and surviving the meeting; a meeting that most likely would have never had to happen if it weren't for this project and your attempts to fix of my life."
Silence reigned until the team reached the perimeter set by the police around the old buildings. Passing through the police barricade, Neal spotted Cathy and realized with a sickening jolt that it must be Mark who his father held.
He was unstrapping his seatbelt when Peter grabbed his arm. "You stay in the car until we find out the present situation and get our team set. I don't want to take any chances."
Anger flamed in Neal's eyes, as he yanked his arm out of Peter's grasp, yet his voice was teasing, "Why Peter, I didn't know you cared."
Peter slammed the door in frustration as he got out. He knew that he had no right to be angry at Caffery but the man was doing his best to irritate him.
Violent as Everett Caffery was, he was just as bright and cunning as his son. He'd managed to steal several cell phones which he used to manipulate and to confuse the audio sensors and GPS trackers making it seem that he was in any number of the passageways and tunnels throughout the grounds. While most were abandoned, there were still some that lead to occupied dormitories and the main treatment facilities. Everett was also thought to have obtained a weapon during his escape but no one was sure about that. The only thing they seemed to be sure of was that he had a hostage and was threatening to kill the child if Neal didn't meet him.
It took Peter just 15 minutes to conference with the local team leaders and to coordinate their members with everyone knowing to take their lead from the F.B.I. agents.
As Peter walked into the operations command truck, he heard the cries of a child coming from the sound monitors that had been placed at different points outside the building.
"Now do the nice thing I asked you to do for me and I won't have to hurt you again," he heard a voice coming out of the audio.
"Where are they," Peter yelled at the people monitoring the audio feeds, heart sick and outraged at what was happening.
"We think he's somewhere in that building, but the monitors show at least 10 different locations. If we storm the wrong place and he sees us, he'll kill the child" said one of the police officers. "He'll only give the child up to his son."
They listened in horror to the pleading as Peter picked up the phone that was their contact to Everett. They could hear it ringing over the monitors registering a dozen locations, and ringing, and ringing.
"Pick it up, damn it, pick it up," Peter swore.
Though it was barely a few seconds it had seemed like hours before there was a curse, a slap and the crying changed to whimpers. Everett Caffery's voice could be heard from the speaker phone. "If my son is not here in the next ten minutes, then I'll train this boy to be my son instead. Won't you like me to treat you just the same as my own Neal? he asked the whimpering boy."
One minute later, Neal walked into the command truck.
Peter was talking to one of the other agents as they replayed the recording and heard Neal's gasp. It was for just a second but there was a look of terror on Neal's face, that and remembered pain. Then suddenly, the con face was back.
"Neal, I…" Peter grabbed an ear wig and handed it to Neal. "Wear this so we'll know what's going on," Peter said. "As soon as you get the hostage out we'll be in there, I swear. I..."
Neal waved his hand in dismissal cutting him off. "Well, Peter," he said, "It's been real," and turned around to enter a prison of another sort.
Peter grabbed him, holding him back, "Neal, don't let him do anything to you."
Neal laughed, "He's just another mark and I'm nothing but a con man."
"Damn it Neal, stop it. You try a con on him and he'll use you and then he'll kill you."
"Come on Peter, killing me saves everyone a lot of trouble. My father was always right. I'm just a worthless criminal."
Peter grabbed Neal's other arm, and shook the man. "If that were true then you wouldn't give a damn about that child, you wouldn't give a damn about your art, or the project or chasing down scum. You think you ever conned me, or June or Hughes, or El, or Raleigh any of our team about what you really are. We know you care. we know that you want to use your talents and gifts to do something good, and that's your worth. If your father were right then you wouldn't give a damn and neither would anyone else, you'd still be back in prison. If you're father were right then you wouldn't be here putting your life on the line and I wouldn't give a damn about someone who was nothing but a con man."
Neal's head was spinning with Peter's words, but less then a minute later, more frightened than he'd ever been he was walking into the building, to the scaffolding that he had erected and under the murals, his work, his original work, that he'd painted so lovingly over the past months, an expression of who he really was.
There was a cell phone on a rung of scaffolding that was ringing and Neal answered it. "Hello son."
"I'm here. What do you want?" he answered in a flat tone.
"After I hang up, turn off the phone and leave it there. Come halfway down the corridor and wait." The phone went dead and Neal walked into the darkened hallway. He heard rustling and a whimper coming from the far end of the corridor. As Neal reached the spot his father had indicated, his eyes adjusted to the darkness and for the first time in more than 20 years, saw the man from many of his nightmares emerge into the faint light coming from the outside. Mark dragged behind him, keening in fear.
"It's been a long time, Neal," Everett said smiling at him.
"I'm here," Neal snapped. "Let the boy go."
Everett's expression turned into that sickening lust filled look that haunted Neal. "Neal, baby boy, I release the sweet little thing and all those cops will be in here in seconds. You're so worthless they'd blast away, probably right through you."
"As if I'd care, as long as they got you."
Everett let go of Mark who stumbled into a corner as the man strode over to Neal, "Now, now, my boy," he said as Neal took several steps back, startled as he had come up against a beam. Everett grinned in triumph reaching out just before Neal ducked and evaded him. "Don't touch me," Neal said, damning the tremor in his voice, realizing Peter was right, he was too afraid of this man to pull a successful con. "You don't get to touch me."
"Why you little," Everett took a swing at Neal but again, Neal ducked away, edging towards Mark.
But Everett was no fool. He feinted another swing at Neal, but this time for him to duck out of the way, Neal had to leave his father a clear path to the young boy which Everett took and grabbed Mark around the waist and moved into the foyer.
Neal followed, sickened as his father caressed Mark's hair and murmured how he'd teach him into his ear.
"You know, he reminds me of you, how I could have made you, formed you, keeping all your beauty on the inside just for me." Everett said crushing the boy to him, ignoring his cries. "Of course, I had to make sure I saved your looks. No one would pay to use you if I marked you up like this. Fools think pretty things are better and so they'd pay more. But I knew the truth, I always knew. If I had only done what I really wanted, you'd still be mine."
Remembering what his father had put him through Neal felt his gorge rise but swallowed it back. He could not let the man get to him. He was not a child.
"But his prettiness, his art is still inside him. That's where the beauty is, inside and I know how to reach it, like I reached it with you."
"You said you'd trade the boy for me. I'm here," Neal said advancing toward his father into the lighted foyer where for the first time, Everett could clearly see Neal. His eyes went wild and backed up as Neal advanced on him.
"No, no you're not here, not the you that I want. What did they do to my baby boy?"
"What the hell is he talking about," he could hear Peter say over the earwig.
"I haven't the faintest idea," Neal whispered.
"I can fix you. I know how to fix you," said Everett. "Don't worry. It will be alright."
Neal couldn't keep track of the change in directions.
"They all told me about you but I knew your art was worthless so I didn't believe them. But you let your art out for them and they got your beauty. But it belongs to me."
"Is that what you want, my art?" Neal staggered with the epiphany. All the art Neal drew as a child, Everett sought to destroy before trying to finish the job on him, making him believe he was worthless. All these years, Neal would call his original work worthless, until he believed it, afraid that his father would destroy it, and thus succeed in finally destroying him and Neal believed it possible, until now. Until now because he knew how his father had conned him to get what he wanted, until now when he realized his own self-worth. His quick mind formed a plan. "Dad, I can give you my art if you give me the boy."
Neal could hear Peter in his ear protesting the trade. "Neal, find another way. Don't let him do this to you."
But Mark cried as Everett squeezed him closer to him and backed away from Neal.
"You're hurting him, give me the boy," Neal said
"No, I let you go once and look at you. You let the beauty out. I'll never let him go, never again.
Neal continued to advance on his father, backing him up as he had done to Neal earlier until Everett's back came against the legs of the scaffolding. Neal's eyes rose to his murals on the ceiling and Everett's gaze followed him. "What's that? he said.
Neal smiled his true smile, "It's my art, Dad. It's my art you never got. It got out. You can have it, you can have all that's there if you give me the boy."
Everett looked back at Neal and then up at the ceiling. "You made that. That's you. That's what was inside you?"
"Yes, yes," Neal said realizing the truth of the words. "That art, that's what's been inside me all along. You can have it to do whatever you want if you give me the boy."
Dropping Mark who fell curling up into a ball, Everett laughed in triumph as he grabbed the first cross bar of the scaffolding and climbed up yelling. "I'll get it, I'll get it. I'll destroy your worth to them and put it back inside you and you'll be my baby boy, my Neal, mine again."
Seeing his chance Neal rushed forward, "Peter, get the hell in here." Reaching Mark he grabbed him off the floor and rushed out the door as the crowd of police and F.B.I. agents swarmed in.
"You'll be all right now Mark," Neal, tried to comfort the crying child until he saw Cathy, the nurse being held back behind the police yellow tape. He called to them to let her past. As she ran forward Neal pointed her out to Mark. "See, there's Cathy."
As she approached, Mark reached out to her and she grabbed him, hugging him close. "Thank you Mr. Caffery. Thank you for saving him. Not many people would be willing to give up what you did for a child not their own."
"We heard he wanted to destroy your art."
"Neal," he turned around hearing Peter calling to him.
He was standing with the S.W.A.T. and F.B.I. agents in the foyer around the base of the scaffolding watching as Everett Caffery squeezed the dregs out of old tubes of paint Neal had left there and smeared them all over Neal's murals, giggling to himself.
"What are you standing around for?" Peter yelled at the men, "Get him the hell down here and cuff him. Then tell that idiot Lyons I want him sedated before we transport him to a secure lock-up."
The police cuffed the ranting man before lowering him struggling, down before nearly dragging the fighting man to a police car. But as they passed Neal, he stopped. "You're worthless, you're worthless to them now. I destroyed everything you've ever done and now you'll be mine, always mine."
It all made sense to Neal, "You can't con a con man, Dad. You can't destroy me, and I can fix the art and all you'll ever own of me is this moment, make the most of it."
Unafraid of his father for the first time in his life, Neal turned and walked away back towards Peter.
"What a sick bastard," Peter said when Neal reached him. "He tried to take everything from you."
"He tried, but like Rip Van Winkle up there, it just took me 20 years to wake up."
"And now that you are awake?"
"It's what you've been trying to tell me, Peter. There's a lot more inside me that I can create and lot more than I can give of myself than I've ever taken from anyone else."
"Allegedly taken?" Peter said.
"Yeah," Neal smiled at his friend, "allegedly taken."
Three years later.
There was not a wall or ceiling in the refurbished buildings that had not been graced with a Neal Caffery original mural. Order forms were made available to visitors for prints, postcards and reproductions of the murals, the proceeds used to purchase art supplies for the children in treatment.
Though Neal's probation had ended a year and a half ago, he'd only completed the humongous project the previous month. However, Neal was still kept busy, working through the private commissions that had piled up as well as consulting on an as needed basis for the F.B.I. White Collar Division.
What was not widely known was that the world renowned and highly sought after artist had foregone the doors that had been open to him to travel the world and partake of the glitz and glitter of mixing with the pretty people and jet setters. Instead he was spending most of his time in a regular nine to five job as an art therapist at the Children's Treatment Center. As with most of his endeavors, the program he helped develop was hailed as the most successful in the state, the children responded to him and the staff loved him. What was more important was that he had never felt so good about himself or his work and was having the time of his life. He had found his happily ever after.
Resplendent in tuxedos, Raleigh Elliott and Peter, holding a garment bag over his shoulder, stood in the center of the foyer, turning slowly around admiring the murals and pointing out details to each other.
The federal agents were on a special assignment from the F.B.I. (Female Burke Instructions) to capture, by force if necessary, one Neal Caffery and deliver him to a charity dinner, arranged by Elizabeth, to celebrate the completion of the work where unknown to the artist, he was the guest of honor.
But of course, Neal, being Neal, had known about it all along and sauntered down the hall, smiling as he spotted his two friends.
"I hope that's the appropriate tuxedo for the season?" he said to Peter as he was handed the garment bag.
"The appropriate tuxedo, listen to him," Peter said to Raleigh. "Everyone I know rents these things from some guy with a mustache and a tape measure round his neck who gives you the least he can get away with for the most money and this guy owns enough of them that he has appropriate and inappropriate monkey suits."
"Don't worry Fred Astaire, June picked it out. Just hurry up and change. Haversham's waiting in the limo and El will have our heads if we're late," Peter said. "You know, even the Director of the F.B.I. himself is supposed to be there as well as the Governor. How El talked them into coming to this shindig I will never know."
"She didn't have to talk them into anything, Peter," said Raleigh. "I can't believe it, at a thousand dollar donation to the children's treatment center, a ticket, we had to double the size of the venue twice and we still are sold out. All these people are paying top dollar just to come to honor Neal and his work. What do you have to say about that?"
Neal Caffery, the world renowned artist, art consultant, philanthropist and humanitarian graced them with the full force of his unabashed smile. "Well, guys, I guess they think I'm worth it and I couldn't agree more."
Peter wrapped his free arm around Neal's shoulders and gently squeezed, "So do I, buddy, so do I."
Thank you for reading and your generosity in reviewing this story.
A/N: This story does not reflect in any way the manner in which those who are confined at state mental institutions are treated or the professional medical and psychiatric personnel who are entrusted with their care nor does it depict any of the patients who are being treated in the facility or any of the conditions from which they suffer.
Victor Trent existed and he did the work mentioned. The murals exist and are in danger of being lost for the reasons stated in the story. The story of Rip Van Winkle is just one of the tales depicted, chosen because it is set in the Hudson Valley in the state of New York. The Psychiatric Clinic, which includes a children's hospital also exists and it does share grounds with an institute housing some convicts suffering from mental disorders who have volunteered to undergo experimental drug therapies. There are tunnels that connect all the buildings. Everything else written about the place is total fiction. As to Mark, I've met children like Mark at such a hospital as this, who have been so brutally abused by the people who bore them (I can't call them parents or I'd dishonor my own) they've suffered permanent disfigurement and brain damage.